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James Li Named USATF Nike Coach of the Year
from: USATF Communications
November 28, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS - James Li, who guided Bernard Lagat to a history-making performance at the 2007 World Outdoor Championships in Osaka, Japan, and an American record indoors, has been named the 2007 Nike Coach of the Year by USA Track & Field. He will receive his award Saturday, December 1, at the 2007 Jesse Owens Awards and Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, held in conjunction with the USATF Annual Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The American record holder over 1,500m, Lagat became the first man to win the 1,500/5,000m double at World Outdoors, and the first American ever to medal in the 5,000 at Worlds. Earlier in the 2007 season, Lagat broke the American record indoors at 3,000 meters.

"I was overwhelmed when I was told that I had won this award, which I really did not expect," said Li. "Bernard and I have worked together for 12 years now, and we have a good foundation of faith and confidence in what we are doing. He has been one of the world's great athletes now for years and what he's accomplished is not surprising. I really appreciate USA Track & Field and Nike for presenting me with this great honor."

In the final 100 meters of the men's 1,500m final in Osaka, Lagat sprinted cleanly to the front and went on to cross the finish line first in 3 minutes 34.77 seconds. It was Team USA's first ever gold medal in that event at a World Outdoor Championships, and the first Olympic or World Championships 1,500m gold medal since 1908, when Hall of Famer Mel Sheppard won the Olympic title. It was a race that went exactly according to the plan that Li had laid out for Lagat, who calls Li "a master of planning out strategy."

That strategic mastery was on display in the 5,000m final, where Lagat stayed with the large lead pack that moved at an extremely slow pace before sprinting past Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya to win in 13:45.87, with Kipchoge second in 13:46.00.

On February 17 in Birmingham, Lagat broke the American record in the indoor 3,000m, with his time of 7:32.43. He also ran the fastest time in the world this year indoors in the mile with his 3:54.26 win at the 100th Millrose Games.

The Li-Lagat partnership has been one of the most fruitful in track & field. Lagat previously won two Olympic medals, a silver medal at the 2001 World Outdoor Championships and a World Indoor title at 3,000m while being coached by Li but competing for his native Kenya. With his two gold medal performance in Osaka he joined Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco (2004 Olympics) and Finland's Paavo Nurmi (1924 Olympics) as the only runners ever to complete the 1,500m/5,000m at an international championship event.

During his 13 years as a coach at Washington State University, Li coached Lagat to performances that led him to be named the NCAA Division I indoor athlete of the year and Pac-10 athlete of the year in 1999. In 2002, Li became the distance coach and leader of the men's and women's cross country programs at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where Lagat makes his home.

"The success that Coach Li and Bernard Lagat have had for more than a decade illustrates the importance of having the right coach guide an athlete throughout his career," said USATF CEO Craig Masback. "At the NCAA level and now as an American citizen, Bernard's accomplishments have raised the bar for American distance runners, and he couldn't have done it without Coach Li. USA Track & Field congratulates James, and Bernard, on their historic partnership."

"James and Bernard have been working together for a long time going back to their days at Washington State, and they have had amazing results from the two Olympic medals to the two world titles won in Osaka," said John Capriotti, Global Sports Marketing Director for Nike. "They have formed nearly the perfect coach/athlete relationship and we look forward to seeing the heights they'll reach in the future."

For more information on the 2007 USATF Annual Meeting, visit www.usatf.org

 


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